Sunday, November 23, 2008

The GOP and Black America

Sophia Nelson is a black Republican and former GOP congressional staffer and committee counsel. She's got a long essay at the Washington Post discussing the paucity of black Americans in the Republican party.

Ninety-five percent of black voters turned out for Barack Obama this year, and Nelson was one of them. She doesn't really explain her personal decision, other than suggesting that the GOP's basically blown off black Americans and the party's lack of vigorous outreach has apparently left her feeling like a jilted lover.

Ta-Nehisi Coates,
at the Atlantic, has a brief post on Nelson, and here's an interesting perspective on the GOP from "Ivan," in the comments:

The article strikes me as misguided in its prescriptions, as the Republicans have a much bigger problem with people of color than "lack of outreach" and "not talking to them": namely, that it is a safe haven for racists of various stripes. Worrying about outreach in its current situation is like worrying about a car's paint job when the engine won't even run. The GOP needs to make it clear, both in style and in substance, that racists are no longer welcome, and it needs to do so consistently and for a long period of time to convince people that its racism is in the past (the way Democrats did by supporting civil rights and rejecting the Dixiecrat wing). In essence, they need to disown the Southern Strategy.

The big problem for the GOP is that they've become dependent on that wing of the party for electoral successes, so over the short term such a rejection will be very costly in electoral terms. But if they don't do this, they're dead in the long term, not just because of fast-growing minority populations (Latinos don't like the GOP crypto- and not-so-crypto-racist policies and rhetoric any more than Blacks) but because it aggressucely alienates the young-voter demo, whites included.

Basically, the GOP made a deal with the devil when they welcomed the Dixiecrats into the party. It gave them a generation's worth of dominance at the Presidential level, but now the bill is coming due and the compounded interest looks brutal.
Ivan puts a reasonably plausible face on the common left-wing smear of the GOP as a party of racists.

The problem, of course, is that since Ronald Reagan's landslide reelection in 1984 - where the GOP won 49 out of 50 states - it strains logic to suggest the post-1960s Republican Party is an exclusively Southern-based political machine. Sure, the party appealed to issues that generated subtantial support among white Southerners, many of whom were Democrats and would cross party lines to vote for Republicans when latent racial issues were salient.

But one key theme associated with this debate is the "Southernization of the America," a topic developed by historians and sociologists, and which was
discussed in an Economist essay in 1994 (see also this entry at Wikipedia). The party appealed to cultural and economic issues that were increasing important to white working class voters, and these issues were nationalized. It's frankly not racist to be outraged that white workers were being passed over in the workplace due to aggressive racial quota programs, or that qualified disadvantaged white students were being shut out of placement at competitive universities because of race-based affirmative action.

as Thomas Edsall has argued, agressive welfare-state liberalism, and extremely race-conscious policies, drove moderate-to-conservative white working class voters from the Democratic Party in droves:

Public policies backed by liberals have driven these new alignments. In particular, busing, affirmative action, and much of the rights revolution in behalf of criminal defendants, prisoners, homosexuals, welfare recipients, and a host of other previously marginalized groups have, for many voters, converted the government from ally to adversary. The simultaneous increase, over the past two and a half decades, in crime, welfare dependency, illegitimacy, and educational failure have established in the minds of many voters a numbing array of "costs" - perceived and real - of liberalism.
Everyday Americans, frankly, were revolting against the excesses of the rights revolution and the cost of welfare state liberalism that to this day has not reduced poverty in America, and has contributed to the decay of the black American family, the radicalism of the gay rights militant movement, and irresponsibility in foreign policy and war.

Today, the GOP's failure to come up with a new governing vision, and the dramatic personality-driven politics of the Democratic Party under Barack Obama, explains the party's drubbing at the polls, among all demographics. In fact, Obama simply consolidated a black voting constituency that has turned out for Democratic candidates at rates of 80 percent since the Lyndon Johnson administration.

Those black Americans who refuse to abandon a victim's mentality aren't likely to be attracted to the more individualistic and responsibility-driven ethic that's been the basis for GOP conservative economic and social values for generations. To the extent that we've had a Democratic political realignment this year, it's largely been a matter of economic trauma. If and when the Democratic Party restores confidence and growth in the American economy, and voters find more opportunity across the free market system, we may see more of a return to a normal pattern of party competition based on relative evaluations of the parties' statements of core convictions and support for decency, mobility, and responsibility.

Until then - until the GOP can credibly restore its image of economic fairness and meaningful traditional values - the Democrats can get away with a politics of grievance that treats black voters as the same sharecroppers that Southern Democratic Party bosses exploited before the 1960s.


Norm said...

Please check out an interesting article by Brandon Brice that can be found on

Mr. Brice opines that the most important issue that must be addressed by the GOP to attract Black voters is that 3 letter word JOBS.
And he is correct.

AmPowerBlog said...

Thanks Norm!

JD said...

JOBS is a 4 letter word.

Anonymous said...

It's frankly not racist to be outraged that white workers were being passed over in the workplace due to aggressive racial quota programs, or that qualified disadvantaged white students were being shut out of placement at competitive universities because of race-based affirmative action.

No, not by itself. But selective outrage is suspicious.

When someone gets outraged over injustices committed against his kind but ignores other, sometimes greater, injustices happening to others, he should be surprised if others don't believe his outrage is really motivated by ethical principles.

Laura Lee - Grace Explosion said...
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bluespapa said...

I can't imagine what state of denial you live in that you don't recognize the centrality of the "Southern strategy" to the Republican party in the past, the choice of Reagan to announce his candidacy about "state's rights" (which as a philosophy always miraculously vanishes when Republicans are in power in Washington), the appealing of Republican candidates to racists like Hagee and Bob Jones, etc., etc.

Opposing Affirmative Action can certainly be defended on philosophical grounds, but it's also the position of racists, and without some other means of countering the racists who ran businesses and institutions who did discriminate based on race, the Republican Party still stands for exclusion when it opposes Affirmative Action. Whether or not the "welfare state" and Affirmative Action destroyed the African American family, or poverty and lack of jobs, disproportional allocations of monies for schools, police, garbage collection, fixing streets, and public buildings in minority neighborhoods, is a matter of debate.

Republicans did well with the school choice issue among minority voters, but still hasn't come up with a way to make it work legally and with the entire bureaucracy of public schools behind it, nor any attempt to bring time on board (think Roderick Page calling the NEA a terrorist organization).

When you have the top, most visible African American Republicans announcing in defiance of their administration and party position that they support Affirmative Action (Rice and Powell), and there's no alternative plan for the goals of Affirmative Action to be achieved except pretend that racism doesn't really hold back minorities, you've lost more than minorities. What's a new voter supposed to get behind in a society they still see is racist and unfair?

Meanwhile the President addresses institutions that preserve racist attitudes and declines to address the largest African American civil rights organization every year of his presidency but one, it doesn't send a very inclusive message, even if they are on record as opposing him. He's their president, too.

Similar problems with Hispanics. The generations of native Hispanic populations have no difficulty sniffing out racism. These would be the families that got annexed into the United States with Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and California, people who have been Americans for generations. They know they had been shut out of state universities admissions for years that they were paying their taxes, when their best and brightest applied but denied. And they know when concerns about illegal immigrants cross the line into racist statements and assumptions.

Ronald Reagan signed an "amnesty" bill, and raised taxes, and blew the deficit to record levels (during peacetime, unless you're counting Grenada and Lebanon), yet the mythology of him defies logic.

According to Prof. Douglas, the vote for Obama is a cult of personality, but the one for Reagan was rational?

In any event, the "comprehensive immigration reform" bill that was rejected was a terrible bill, but not for the reason that it granted "amnesty" (which it didn't), but except for a fence (how has that worked out?) and border patrol, the Republican Party has offered nothing but outrage in discussing the millions who are here, working, paying taxes, and as we've recently discovered, better credit risks on first time home purchases than many citizens. What a lot of people don't understand about "illegal" in this context is what would actually work that Republicans are suggesting to deal the actual situation, as Bush and McCain are fond of say, the actual conditions on the ground.

I can't help but also notice the hyperbole in Prof. Douglas's description of the gay rights movement as "militant." Militant? They are militant? Do you not remember from 9/11 what militant means? Do you not read or watch the news in other countries where you support our military commitments what militant means? Do you not recall that some Americans risk their lives against real militants? Is your reactionary vision so distorted that you cannot see the difference between a bunch of upset people who wanted to get married and whose right to has been repealed by popular referendum on the hand, and what and who militants are?

It's no "liberal lie" that the Republican Party is a political refuge for racists. Ask the African American delegates to party functions who get asked to carry suitcases, despite that they are wearing their badges. Not all Republicans are racist, but to deny their place in the party is just to deny reality. Explain Thurmond. Account for the Republican congressman who proudly said Obama has no chance of winning in his district because of the color of his skin. I can't see into their souls, Prof. Douglas. Maybe they aren't racists. They just act like them.

Laura Lee - Grace Explosion said...
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Laura Lee - Grace Explosion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.